Travelogix Presents… A View from Europe
Our new series, appropriately coined Travelogix Presents, aims to shed some light on important topics facing the travel industry today.
Last month, we interviewed Elkie and Nico Nicholas at Trees4Travel who are on a mission to reforest and rewild our planet through a simple, cost effective carbon offsetting solution.
In this second edition, we speak to four Travelogix clients and partners; two leading TMCs and two strategic technology partners from three European markets: Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands;
-Henrik Lykke Hansen and Kelly Luney, Commercial Director and Market Manager respectively at Procon (Denmark)
-Tessa Van Willigen, Owner at Maritime Travel (Netherlands)
-Steffen Faradi, Owner and Co-Founder at Midoco (Germany)
-Tom Roefs, CEO at Munckhof Business Travel (Netherlands)
Our goal was three-fold: to gain a better understanding of the state of play in their markets as we leave the pandemic, to discuss the assistance they received during the global health emergency, and finally to look ahead to a brighter and more prosperous future.
So, grab a coffee, sit back, and enjoy this instalment of Travelogix Presents.
Brace Yourself for Impact
We, and the wider travel community, are fully aware of the pandemic’s impact upon our industry. It isn’t a topic we wanted to dwell upon because, frankly, we’re all on the verge of a COVID-19 induced burnout. However, it felt appropriate to check in with our guests and see how they were doing. Their responses will not come as a shock.
In the Netherlands, Tom Roefs from Munckhof Travel Group explained they were hit by a 75% downturn in revenue during the pandemic. While Tessa van Willigen from Dutch Marine Specialists Maritime Travel took a matter-of-fact approach by simply stating: “Like everyone, our numbers dropped off a cliff.”
No surprises there and, incidentally, the drop in revenue, transactions and bookings were themes explored in granular detail in the Travelogix Industry Report which was published back in April 2021.
However, what was impressive was that despite the challenges being faced, everyone we spoke to won new partners and clients during the pandemic and strengthened their strategic reach across Europe. An effort you must doff your cap to.
Drawing upon their pre-existing virtual meeting platforms and flexible working set up, Steffen at Midoco said: “we were surprised by the number of opportunities given the state of play. Companies were using the downturn in travel to rethink their processes and technology offering.”
Similarly, Henrik Lykke Hansen and his team at Procon acquired a healthy amount of new business whilst preparing to enter the ‘new normal’ with a smaller workforce. Procon also realised that automation and technological efficiencies will be core fundamentals for the company moving forward.
Tom at Munkhof Travel took a unique approach by steering directly into the storm and formed a strategic alliance with the Government to support the country’s effort to track and trace COVID-19.
By temporarily stepping away from booking travel and focusing on supporting the national test and trace effort in association with the Dutch Health Services, Munkhof significantly upstaffed.
Tom said: “Since the start of our ‘test and trace’ project with the Dutch Health Services, we have built a team of 165 employees…our thinking was if we can directly assist with the battle against COVID, the sooner travel can return.”
Government, Where Art Thou?
Here, in the UK, our Government’s successes, and failings, have been widely reported.
Successes coming in the form of individual furlough schemes, saving the careers of many whilst helping companies across the country retain their trained and experienced staff for when brighter days return, a robust Europe-leading vaccination programme, which is currently sitting at 71.3 million jabs and not to mention, the most super-human and resilient NHS effort this country has ever seen. Each one should receive royal honours for their efforts.
Failings, of which there are many, come in other areas; no specific financial support for the business travel supply chain would be at the very top of this list, mixed messages from the ‘top’ down, and confusing traffic light systems aplenty which has produced seemingly irreparable damage to our UK GDP. Oh, and the disbanding, and then subsequent re-banding, of the international travel taskforce for almost no apparent reason.
Hope has been quashed so many times in the past 15 months. I could go on…
But on speaking to our partners in Europe, there was certainly a sense of agreement on many points, but also some rays of light in other areas.
For example, in Germany, bespoke financial packages were placed on the table for many, and Government communication seemed to be universally on-point.
TUI, the world’s largest tour operator, who sent 23 million people on holiday before the pandemic in 2019, received 4.8 billion euros from the German Government and private investors. They were the second largest company to be bailed out in Germany, topped only by Deutsche Lufthansa AG.
“The measures agreed today are important as the company was profitable before the crisis and is now grappling with unprecedented difficulties,” a spokeswoman for Germany’s economy ministry said. The funds “will help Germany’s largest travel company bridge this difficult time.” – Bloomberg.
Steffen at Midoco commented: of course, there were failings, but I think overall, they handled things quite well. Bespoke financial packages were laid on down the supply chain and both employees and employers were assisted directly.”
However, things were not so positive for Henrik in Denmark, he commented: “The government totally burned the industry down, not only in Denmark, but in Norway and Sweden, Belgium too. It feels like the industry is too small to get recognition from the Government.”
Like Tom at Munckhof, Tessa over at Maritime Travel applauded the Dutch Government. She stated: “The Government devised support schemes quite quickly. Rather than sending people home, taskless on furlough schemes and such like, they decided to assist with salaries which meant employees could still work and make a difference. People must stay motivated. They also provided additional support for the running costs at Maritime.”
A Brighter Future?
So, looking ahead, what did we learn from our interviewees?
Technology, duty of care and a re-evaluation of business practices were mentioned often during our interviews. These have grown in their importance for companies when not only selecting travel partners to work with, but in the act of travelling.
“Travellers will naturally become more central to the planning and overall booking process”, said Steffen at Midoco.
He continued: “duty of care considerations will be at the forefront for companies and TMCs as we move out of the pandemic.”
Tom at Munckhof Travel commented: “as we continue to recover, our role as business travel experts will be more crucial than ever.”
The value of a TMC, and the reassurances they can provide, has never been more crucial.
When discussing the virtual way in which we staged meetings during the pandemic, it was universally accepted that it may have an impact on the way companies conduct their business going forward, but not as a replacement to meeting in person.
Tom at Munkhof said: “in the short term, it will remain a fixture in most companies, however, very quickly, they will realise the quality of the agreements, and partnerships, will be enhanced greatly by face-to-face meetings.”
Streamlining business practices through robust technology, harvesting data through powerful analytical platforms, like Analytix, and tracking your travellers for the health and wellbeing of your workforce – are the new key-crop of business objectives for most companies.
But of course, traveller confidence will play an important role in the recovery of business travel. Central to that, will be the vaccination programmes that will fuel confidence and Govenmental policy change.
Henrik at Procon commented: “Denmark is taking a more conservative route regarding the vaccination programme. That said, the more vaccines we can administer – the more confident travellers will feel. ”
At the time of writing this, and according to the covid vaccination tracker in the New York Times, the number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccination is:
UK – 71.3 million (62% of the population), Denmark – 4.1 million (46%), The Netherlands – 11.3 million (45%) and Germany – 60.1 million (48%)
These dark days will soon be behind us, that we are sure of. Partnerships and collaboration will act as the glue needed to keep this industry together.
Companies, industry wide, are reeling. However, we have witnessed much over the past 20 years and the pandemic of 2020/21 will of course be something we reflect on, but ultimately live with in the ‘new normal’ as we move forward.
Regarding partnerships and collaboration, Steffen at Midoco told me something that has stayed with me since our interview: “if you want to know if you have a friend, you have to inherit something together. In tough times, you realise the strengths of these partnerships.”
Travel is predicated on its people, so uniting to traverse this COVID shaped mountain has been crucial for our industry. Long may these bonds remain.